Harvard Square can trace its roots back to a visible widening in the road between the Cow Common (where Harvard Yard is today) and the center of Newtowne (Cambridge’s original name whose center was east of JFK Street). By 1636, this area was surrounded by the Burying Ground, Harvard College, the first Meeting House, and one homestead (which is now the location of the Harvard COOP). Along Braintree Street (now Massachusetts Avenue) four tradesmen set up their establishments, including one that served “bread and beer” to Harvard students. It wasn’t until the late 18th century that a building boom encircled the square and helped to define its current shape. By the 19th century, many of Cambridge’s major shops were located in and around Harvard Square.
The postcards, located in the Cambridge Room’s Postcard Collection, show the slow evolution of the square during the early part of the twentieth century. Transportation – first trolleys, then the T, and finally the car- redefined the square. Yet even with these necessary infrastructure developments, the postcards show how very little Harvard Square changed over the past 100 years.
Tinted Postcard of Harvard Square 1925
Postcard of Harvard Square, circa 1930s